Traditional travel guides are still popular despite the increased use of apps, blogs, and e-books. But many companies that publish travel guides are going digital.
Imagine you're travelling at sea or in the mountains. There's no electricty or internet connection. Uta Niederstraßer, from of theMairDumont publishing group, says that in those situations, the print edition of a travel book comes in really handy.
MairDumont is Europe's leading publisher of travel guides and maps. The company's annual turnover is about 100 million euros (almost $100 million). MairDumont's brands include Marco Polo, DuMont, the German version of Lonely Planet, Stefan Loose, and Falkplan - plus a brand that has become synonymous with travel guides: Baedeker.
Devotion to detail
The first Baedeker guide was published in 1832 - and since then, these travel guides have set the standard for accuracy and reliability. The founder of the company that bears his name, Karl Baedeker, was a stickler for detail.
For example, when Baedeker was doing research on the staircase to the roof of Milan Cathederal, he counted the number of steps, transferring a dried pea from his waistcoat pocket to a pocket in his trousers every 20 steps. Baedeker's travel guides provided not only detailed descriptions of tourist attractions, but also practical information on local transit systems and hotels. That's what made them so successful.
But nowadays you can find all the latest travel data quickly on the internet - so why do people still use printed versions of travel guides?
Reliability is everything
These days, more and more travelers rely on recommendations from friends and colleagues. Maria Anna Hälker, editor-in-chief of DuMont's travel guide division, likes this trend. Hälker specializes in writing about Madrid and Andalusia. When she's looking for a good hotel or restaurant, she's more likely to talk to friends than to rely on evaluation websites such as tripadvisor.de. Of course, she checks out all the recommendations herself - because the most important quality of her reviews is reliability.
Connecting with local residents
One company uses personal travel recommendations as its successful business model: the London-based, English-languageInsight Guides. Its books first appeared in 1970. Insight recently launched a new online portal that offers customized travel packages prepared with the help of local experts.
The company sees a bright future in web-based travel guides. People who sign up with Insight can contact local experts for detailed information. Insight CEO René Frey says he expects that digital travel business will soon be more popular. But print titles are still thriving.
Travel guides for Iceland and Japan are currently particularly popular among British travelers. Americans prefer books about Russia. German travelers buy travel books on Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
A giant among travel guide publishers
Lonely Planettravel guides are especially popular with backpackers. The company continues to invest heavily in the content of its print editions, and did so even after sales of its English-language editions fell sharply in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
Nowadays, Lonely Planet is the world's number-one seller of travel guides - and online, an estimated six-million people use the company's social media service and its Thorn Tree travel forum. Since 2006, Lonely Planet travel guides have also been published in German.
A slight drop in turnover
Annual turnover in the German book market was down slightly in 2015 - 1.4 percent, to be exact. But the travel-book sector did better than the overall market. Turnover for market leader MairDumont was down just 0.8 percent. The company has revised its book formats in 2015, and is devising new ways to maintain and expand its consumer base.
Marco Polo, the best-selling travel guide brand in Europe, is also making some improvements. Its primary target consumer group: young, female, and looking for fun and adventure. Marco Polo offers this group guide books that are practical and easy to carry. The guides provide information on festivals and shopping, and leisure activities including diving and surfing. Plus, there are "digital extras" that offer last-minute information on prices and opening hours. There's also a free smartphone app that focuses on adventure tours.
You can download the MairDumont tour app without buying the travel guide, but Uta Niederstraßer says most people do buy the book, including digital versions. MairDumont is boosting its digital presence by investing in established online companies and start-ups that focus on travel, like the Beachinspector platform and the online content provider Trips by Tips.
On the other hand, the German publishing group Reise Know-How says its core business is not based on digital content. Reise Know-how is an established presence in the German-language market. It's been publishing travel guides since 1985, and now has more than 2,000 titles available. The company's guides provide detailed regional studies that help travelers to get the most out of their trip.
Reise Know-How experimented with various digital projects, but eventually cancelled them. Reise Know-how spokeswoman Birgit Hempel points out that the company does offer e-books, GPS data on tourist attractions, and an app that helps travelers with the local language and one that provides suggestions for walking tours around cities. But the company's core business is still travel books. Hempel says: "People enjoy looking through them. They underline important information, and fold down page-corners. And afterwards, they keep the book in their library, so it'll remind them of their trips."
Exciting first-hand travel stories
A real travel adventure: three young men drive 70,000 km around the world in an old taxi - and they end up in some unusual situations
Some people are arm-chair tourists. Malik Verlag has had a series of best-sellers with titles such as "Couch-Surfing in Iran: My Travels behind Closed Doors." Malik specializes in personal accounts of travel and adventure, not in traditional travel guides. Starting in 1927, they published a series called "You Won't Find This in a Baedeker." Malik has published books by German hiking expert Manuel Andrack and legendary mountain climber Reinhold Messner.
Malik program manager Bettina Feldweg says that many people who enjoy travel simply want to break out of their daily routine. Feldweg adds that they're looking for real meaning in their lives; they want to do something they've never done before.
From blog to book
Malik has entered the digital age with a German-English language blog:travelepisodes.com, where contributors provide multimedia accounts of their travel experiences. The stories are available in both print and digital versions. The first volume, "The Travel Episodes: Stories of Wanderlust and Freedom" was a best-seller in German and was nominated for a 2016 German e-book award as an "innovative and forward-looking digital-first project."